18 – 26 October
On the road again we found our way out of the city and had a nice surprise waiting for us. We had thought that the diesel price shown at the stations was $1.03 per litre when in fact it was $1.03 PER GALLON and we filled up for 15 pounds!! It was good to be out of the city and back into the country, although on the outskirts it was like many of the other cities we had seen, run down wooden houses – in this case up on stilts. Again the major crops here appear to be rice, sugar cane and acre upon acre of farmed bananas mostly for supply to Dole by the number of signs along the road side. We had our first glimpse of the Andes in the distance covered in clouds. Looks like the shorts will be put away and the fleeces coming our very soon.
There were road works all along the high roads which slowed our progress – a usual no cones. In one place the digger was right across the road so we had quite a wait to get through. As we climbed higher and higher we could see the small patchwork fields and high terraces and wondered how they worked these plots in near vertical locations. The road also was like a patchwork – very, very rough going with topes and potholes – bet the Toyota wishes she was back in her box!! At 3,274 metres we ran into a hail storm with the hailstones bouncing off the steaming road. The roads around Ambato were a bit confusing and with nothing but a tourist map we had to stop and ask the way to Quito several times. The volcano here towers above the town and we could see ridges which we assumed were carved from the lava overflow. Further along the road we had a glimpse of yet another volcano topped with snow.
Just when we thought things were going fine – the vehicle had been above 3,750 metres and no real problems – the nightmare started. We passed through Latacunga with plenty of hotel but, as it was still light and only 5pm, we thought we would carry on and reach one of the hotels closer to the Cotopaxi National Park. The first one we tried was full, the second one was signposted off the main highway onto a dirt track which we followed for a while but when we had no more signs and ended up in a haulage yard in the dark we decided the safest thing was to head back on to the Panamerican Highway and head for Quito which was around 40 kms away. Then one of the fuses blew on the headlights and we could only use main beam much to the annoyance of everyone else on the road who were flashing at us but it was a high mountain road with no lighting so we had to keep them on. Coming into Quito then engine started to stutter, we lost revs and finally stopped all together. JC got out to have a look see, but it was dark and he could not see anything obvious. There we were stuck on the side of a very fast road wondering what next! In control JC quickly donned his reflective jacket, attached the tow strap to the front and stood at the side of the road waving the other end of the strap for help. Finally, three guys in a pick up arrived and towed us into a fuel station where they all had another look to see if they could find out what the problem was. One of them spoke a little bit of English but there was still much pantomiming and hand waving going on. Our problem then was it was Saturday night – no mechanic around and unlikely to be one until Monday morning. We thanked the guys for their help and arranged to stay on the forecourt of the fuel station overnight, as their seemed to be little we could do until the morning at least. The temperature by then was 13C and very cold for us. All Winter stuff still packed away in the back – it looked like we were in for a very cold night! Then 2 Toyotas pulled in to fill up. I went to one and asked if they could direct us to a Toyota dealer in my best Spanish. The owner was as helpful as he could be and gave me the list of service centres in Quito but explained that they would not be open until Monday. JC had much more luck than me – he went to the other Toyota which was rigged for off roading and met ‘H H’ and Daniel who proved to be our Guardian Angels that night. They spoke English, tried to see what the problem was and fix it at the road side, rang around their contacts to see if they could get a mechanic to us and were about to help us put the tent up for the night when the final call confirmed that no one would be available until Monday. Not wanting us to spend two nights on the garage forecourt they very kindly and professionally towed us to a safe, comfortable hotel and made all of the arrangements for the secure parking ensuring that everything was locked inside, and had already made contact with a friend of theirs who works in Toyota, before JC took them for a well deserved beer. By this time it was 11pm and I disappeared to the room for a hot bath to get warm again. What wonderful lads, they were truly good Samaritans that night – I don’t know what we would have done without them. I am sure they must have had better things to do on a Saturday night. Although we had been worried about spending the night in the garage forecourt, it seemed that fate had drawn us there. If we had stopped at one of the earlier hotels or dropped into the maze of streets that is Quito we would never have met up with ‘HH’ and Daniel.
Weary from yesterday’s excitement and suffering a bit from the altitude – Quito is at 2,900m above sea level we took things very easy on Sunday. Hopefully, our bodies will acclimatize and the slight headaches and shortness of breath will improve over the next few days. However, we did rouse ourselves and took a taxi into the old town of Quito which is a World Heritage Site. An amazing city set in a valley it is more than 30 kms long but only 5km wide with Volcan Pichincha towering above it to the West. We were both very glad we had decided not to drive in here last night. It would have been like breaking down in the narrow streets of the Shambles in York! As it was Sunday, there were many people – local and tourists sitting in the beautiful plazas and wandering the cobbled streets in the mild sunshine. If you are feeling energetic enough you can hire a bicycle and see the city that way or take a horse and carriage.
After a rest in the afternoon, ‘HH’ and Daniel came to meet us. We talked about the rest of our time in Ecuador a well as the plans for getting the Toyota fixed. They have given us some good tips for routes and places to see and ‘HH’ has sent our website information to a friend of his in Peru who organizes the Landcruiser Peru off roading club. We are under strict instructions to call Alonso when we arrive in Peru.
As good as his word ‘HH’ rang at 0830am. He had been trying to ring Toyota but got no reply so he went there personally! They re-directed him to a diesel specialist that they use and shortly after he arrived at the hotel with a low loader. With the help of the hotel staff the poor Toyota was winched on board and JC and I jumped into ‘HH’s Toyota and followed them. It was a sad seeing her up there but she was still getting plenty of admiring looks from passers by.
At the garage ‘HH’ off loaded her – I think he had been dying to get behind the wheel all along. At Garner Espinosa CA – Laboratorio Turbo Diesel the head man had been at college in the UK and was married to a lady from Devon who also came out to have a chat with us. I could see JC visibly relax as he could explain the problem himself in English and off they went for a test drive. Looks like we would do better at altitudes with a Turbo fitted – which means we will probably be in Quito until the end of the week. In the workshop there was a Land Rover 90 and a Free Lander – JC was joking about borrowing one for the rest of our trip. Luckily the Toyota was out of hearing – she has done a great job for us so far and I am sure she will again once she has had the Turbo fitted and the injector pump re-calibrated. After speaking to Paul at Footloose 4 x 4 JC was even more convinced that this will be the answer and it’s much cheaper to have it done here than it is in the UK! On the way back at the hotel we stopped with ‘HH’ and filled up at the garage where we first met and where we could have been spending the weekend without their help! How lucky we were.
Back at the hotel we were both feeling happier about the situation and spent some time looking at ‘HH’s photos of the beautiful countryside around Quito and some photos of he and Daniel on the off road competitions. They do things a bit differently here and JC, a retired off roader, and he swapped stories of competitions, tulip maps, way markers and winches! He had never heard of a Kinetic Rope – neither have I – and JC has arranged for one to be sent out for him – hopefully it will arrive before his competition this weekend.
So we face another week’s delay but feel sure it will be worth it especially as the places that we want to see in Bolivia and Peru are even higher than this. Today we had a message from our drinking mates at the Black Swan, our local pub in England – great to hear from you guys – glad Bill is staying on so that JC can enjoy his Bangers and Mash when he gets home – not sure about the 2.95 a pint though – he may never come back.
Today, we became members of the South American Explorers Club – www.saexplorers.org With clubhouses in Quito, Cusco, Lima and Buenos Aires they have a wealth of information on all of the countries we are travelling to – maps, travel tips, trip notes from other travelers, help with guides for climbing and walking, airlines, accommodation, buses and much, much more. They also had a library, provide a mailing address and secure lock up for bags, as well as having arranged discounts for members at many places in South America. A great help if you are ever travelling in South America. We spent a couple of hours there gathering information for the rest of our trip and then got a 20% discount when we returned to our hotel and showed our membership card. The membership fee for both of us was $80 per year and is definitely worth it.
After lunch, I finally got brave enough to go to the hairdressers. Thank goodness for Lisa and my piece of paper with the colour formula on – it looks a bit darker but at least the grey has gone. I’m sure Kevin Wales will think I look even more like Cilla Black now! Maggie, Monica and Gladys – yes Gladys, were very friendly and the salon on the top floor of the hotel had fantastic views. We both seem to be coping better with the altitude now, although we find that we don’t want to eat so much – could be a good thing as all this hotel living has been taking it’s toll.
Getting away from the hotel food, we went into the Mariscal area of Quito. This is an area full of restaurants, cafes, bars, hostels, hotels and travel agents and we fond the Magic Bean – a restaurant with loads of veggie choices and on top of that it was one at which we could get discount with our SAE card. Have to admit though that JC was slightly embarrassed asking for a discount of $1.40!! We went back to the area again that evening and sat in the square watching the mix of people eating and drinking – from office workers in their suits having a drink after work to local families and the obvious travelers wandering around with their huge backpacks and maps. Its hard to imagine that it is nearly the end of October and we are still sitting outside in the evening.
The next day we went back into the Old Town and were very disappointed when we were well and truly ripped off by a local taxi driver. We told him our destination and asked him “how much” as usual before we got in. He pointed to his meter. Well, as all of the guide books recommend that you take a metered cab we thought all would be OK – it cost us twice as much as usual and we reckon the meter must have been fixed!! Although it was not a lot of money, it leaves a bad feeling. He was chatting away to us all along the route obviously soft soaping us for his trick. As you can imagine JC was spitting feathers! The city is full of churches and squares, windy narrow streets, climbing up and down the mountainous city and despite our problem with the taxi driver we enjoyed our day wandering around.
We waited until late afternoon before making our call to the garage and HURRAY we can go and get her at 4pm tomorrow. Thank goodness – we are both truly fed up with city life now, especially with all of the wonderful stuff that is waiting for us on the rest of our journey.
Well, once again our plans went wrong – we went to the workshop at 4pm and were told that we might have to wait another 2.5 hours as the Toyota was away having some pipework fabricated at another workshop and it would take that time to ensure that everything was properly done and then everything had to be tested! Juan – our engineer took us to the fabrication shop and on the way explained to JC how it all works. Basically, it’s not your normal every day turbo it’s a turbo altitude compensator which gives the same power output at sea level as at altitude. At the fabrication shop it was apparent that there was no way we would be able to drive away with her that night and as they are not open on a Saturday, we will be here in Quito until Monday. Although we were disappointed we both want to ensure, like Juan, that everything is fully tested before we set off – we still have a long way to go and we have been very lucky here with our rescuers and the excellent skills of the guys at Garner Espinosa C.A. – Juan is definitely Doctor Diesel of South America.!
Met up with H and Daniel for dinner. Sadly the Kinetic rope has not arrived in time for their competition tomorrow but they have been telling everyone here to watch out – they will soon have a secret weapon from England! They told us to ensure we contact Alonso in Peru from the Landcruiser club as he has already been on our website and wants us to meet with him and other members of the club so that they can have a good look at the Toyota – more marketing for Footloose 4x4!